The Church of Polytheists
God doesn’t believe in atheists. As they reject His existence, so He rejects their rejection. They may not believe in the true God, but they do fear, love, and trust in Some Thing. And that Some Thing is the deity enthroned within their hearts. All atheists are closet theists.
But God also doesn’t believe in monotheists. We may confess that there is one God—and there is—but in fact, the church is full of religiously observant polytheists. With our lips we may say, “Hear, O Israel, the LORD our God, the LORD is one,” or “I believe in one God, the Father Almighty, maker of heaven and earth,” but examine our lives and you’ll find that our hearts are as jam-packed with deities as Mt. Olympus.
Who are these gods? “That to which we look for all good and in which we are to find refuge in all need. Therefore, to have a god is nothing else than to trust and believe in that one with your whole heart,” (Luther). There’s a virtual flavor-of-the-month when it comes to the deities to whom we swear allegiance. In December, perhaps Family takes the throne. In March, it’s Money that receives our adoration. In July, Sex becomes the god in whom we trust. In September, it’s Career that means more to us than anything else. In between, we hook up with drugs or alcohol, power or fame, or any other pseudo-deities in the pantheon of options afforded us in this god-full world. As Luther says, “Anything on which your heart relies and depends, I say, that is really your God.”
This is also why there is indeed only one commandment and only one sin. That one commandment is “You shall have no other gods,” and that one sin is idolatry. If we could keep this single commandment, if we could fear and love and trust in God above all things, then we would never break any of the other commandments. But because we do fear and love and trust in things above God—because we are inveterate idolaters—we ride roughshod over every other commandment. Because our hearts are idol factories with doors that never close, our lives are full of the repercussions of trusting in those gods who always disappoint.
The fool says in his heart, “There is no God,” (Ps 14:1). But the fool also says in his heart, “There are many gods.” And we, dear friends, are the fools. We have fooled ourselves into trusting the untrustworthy. We have built the house of our lives on shifting sand. Wealth vanishes. Families die. Power can be stripped away. Sex is fleeting. There is only one God who never passes away, never abandons us, never treats us as anything less than His beloved children.
And the best news of all: that one God is one of us.
He did not remain aloof in heaven and bark down orders that we must trust in Him. Nor did He pay us an earthly visit, dazzle us with His divinity, demand faith, then vanish into the clouds again. He fully submerged Himself into our existence. God spent a few months in the fetal position beneath the bulging belly of Mary. God dirtied His diaper, learned how to walk, mastered His ABCs. God felt the sting of rejection, the bite of hunger, the tug of temptation. He experienced loneliness, helplessness, abandonment, agony, and felt the cold steel of the grim reaper. No human emotion is foreign to him, even the worst, such as shame and guilt and grief. In His finest hour, when He displayed His heart to the cosmos, He embraced all evil by becoming our worst in His execution. He even became our idolatry.
God did this. God endured this. The one and only God who became our one and only Savior did this because we are the supreme objects of His love.
I am not an apologist; I cannot wow you with arguments as to the plausible existence of God. What I can tell self-professing atheists, however, is that the kind of God they reject is the kind of God who loves them so much He became their brother, their substitute, their Savior. Reject Him as much as they want; He will not reject them. They too are reconciled to the Father in him; all they must do is believe what is already true and the gift is theirs.
What I can tell polytheists is that all our self-made deities are figments of our infidelity, as untrustworthy as we are. But for us, who are so prone to trust in all things more than God, God has already paid the price. His blood covers our idolatry. What’s even better: Christ’s obedience, His single-minded, single-hearted trust in His Father—that faith is credited to our account. There has been only one faithful monotheist in the history of humanity, Jesus Christ.
The nakedness of our lack of trust is clothed by the faithfulness of Jesus.
I believe in one God: He is the Father who has sent His Son who sends His Spirit to bring us to faith in Him, to adopt us as his children, to make us heirs of all His riches. In this one God we are one—no longer fractured by our multiple allegiances to other gods.
We are one in the one God whose one heart overflows with grace to us all in Jesus Christ.